Within hours of releasing the abducted junior engineer after days of negotiations with the Orissa government, Maoist rebels on Wednesday put forward new conditions for the release of Malkangiri district collector R Vineel Krishna.
Junior engineer Pabitra Mohan Majhi was released on Wednesday afternoon as per the agreement reached by the government during the negotiations with mediators, chosen by rebels.
The release came after the government gave in to nearly 14 demands of the Leftist rebels including release of their jailed comrades.
But in a dramatic turnaround, by late Wednesday the rebels put new conditions for the release of their biggest catch to date -- the young Indian Administrative Service officer Krishna.
The turnaround stumped the mediators too.
In a press conference late Wednesday, the mediators said that they are surprised with the development and the fresh demands made by the rebels are not acceptable to them.
"For the release of the district collector they have set certain conditions," said G Haragopal, an academician and one of the three mediators of the hostage crisis.
"It will not be possible for us to abide by these conditions," he said. Without detailing the new terms set by the rebels, he said, "We have a feeling that this will complicate the matter."
Dandapani Mohanty, another mediator, was a little more forthcoming on the demands. "They want the mediators to visit Malkangiri district. The new conditions are not acceptable to us. We appeal to them to release the collector as per the deadline of 48 hours (Thursday evening)."
Earlier in the day, junior engineer Majhi said the kidnapped collector was safe and the rebels will free him within 48 hours.
People across the state were glued to television sets, awaiting the news of Krishna's release.
"He (collector) is safe and is still in the cut-off area. I do not know the exact location. The Maoists said they will release him within 48 hours," Majhi said at a press conference in the district headquarter town of Malkangiri, about 618 km from here.
"They fed us rice and dal and we were being moved from one place to another" during the week-long captivity, he said. Majhi also said that the rebels did not cause any mental or physical harm to them.
Replying to a question about reports that the collector was ill and refused food, Majhi said, "He was in good health and was eating fine."
Majhi was released in the same Chitrakonda area, about 700 km from Bhubaneswar, from where he was kidnapped along with Collector Krishna on Feb 16, sending shock waves across the country.
"We don't have any information so far about the release of the collector," a senior state police officer said.
The state government and people from various walks of life, including women, children and media persons, anxiously watched television sets for the latest updates. Thousands of people also rushed to the collector's official residence.
Curiously, a top Maoist leader who was granted bail as part of the mediation process refused to leave prison, negotiators said.
Wednesday saw the state high court grant bail to Maoist ideologue Ganti Prasadam - one of the seven top rebels whose release was sought in exchange for the freedom of the abducted officials. But Prasadam refused to leave prison, negotiators said.
"Until and unless the government takes steps for the release of over 600 innocent people languishing in various jails on the charge of being involved in Maoist activities, Prasadam says he will not leave prison," said Mohanty.
Orissa Police, on a prison transfer granted by a court, brought Prasadam from a jail in Andhra Pradesh on Saturday night after the mediators sought his presence to speed up the negotiations that started Sunday.
Prasadam is facing several charges in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. His bail petition was moved Monday in the Orissa High Court in Cuttack, 26 km from here, after it was rejected by a lower court.
The Maoists had set 14 conditions, including the halt to anti-Maoist operations, release of all political prisoners, and scrapping of accords with multi-national companies for land transfer and projects in Orissa.
The government agreed to all the demands after holding negotiations here with the three mediators - Mohanty and Haragopal and R Someswar Rao.